Out of Sight, Out of Mind

In Death at an Early Age, Louise Day Hicks, head of the School Committee, claims that the Boston Public School System is the least segregated in the nation. At a time when the civil rights movement was at its height and throughout the land violence was sweeping the cities, towns, and the schools, Boston was supposedly an island of calm in the nation's turbulent storms. The truth and the perception of the truth are two entirely different views. The perception of the truth was that Boston was an island of calm. The truth was that in Boston there existed a system of de facto segregation that was just as sorry as any situation in the south.

The open enrollment policy of the BPS was a failure. Hicks said any child in the City of Boston could enroll in any school. Unfortunately this was not the case. African-American children from the ghettos of Roxbury and Mattapan lacked the finances to transport themselves out of their neighborhood to other schools. In cases where the student could find the transportation, an enormous wall of bureaucratic red tape had to be surmounted.

The condition of schools in white areas as opposed to those in primarily black areas was striking. The William Lloyd Garrison School was a building waiting to be torn down. There were four classes in the auditorium. The basement smelled like a sewer. Window panes fell with regularity. The only reason there were any repairs during the year that Kozol taught there was that a TV crew was coming in. Meanwhile schools such as Charlestown High were enjoying expansion and repairs.

These two facts in and of themselves prove Kozol's point that as long as people didn't see a problem, it didn't exist. Hicks, in all probability, knew what was going on yet refused to acknowledge the problem.